Top 5 common mistakes made in ICA exams

Written by Dave Robson on Wednesday September 11, 2013

Last November I wrote a popular blog on Top 5 tips for ICA exams so I thought it would be worth following this up with some more useful guidance.

Those of you who have attended workshops as part of your ICA qualification may have already been given similar advice. Those new to the courses or those studying by distance learning may find these tips more beneficial.

Remember, in order to pass the exam you must score the required amount of marks.

1. Not reading the instructions

This almost seems too obvious but ALWAYS read the front page of the booklets you are given.

ICA provides clear instructions on the number of questions to be answered and from which sections. For example, in Diploma exams, you need to answer two from Part A and two from Part B.

If you don’t answer the right selection of questions, you can’t score the marks! ICA examiners don’t want to penalise you (and in fact, there is no ‘negative’ marking), but they can’t award you marks if you haven’t answered the right questions.

2. Not answering enough questions

A similar issue to the one above, you won’t earn sufficient marks to pass if you don’t answer enough questions.

Taking the Diploma as an example again, if you only answer two questions instead of the required four, the maximum score you can achieve in the exam is 50 marks. And that is if you answer them PERFECTLY (which is unlikely).

3. Not answering the question

You may be more interested in sanctions than you are in reporting suspicious activity. Or you may have spent more revision time on sanctions but now reporting suspicious activity has come up in the exam. Typical.

The examiners want you to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject matter raised and also show your understanding of how issues are inter-related. But if a question comes up on reporting suspicious activity, they are looking for you to demonstrate your understanding of reporting suspicious activity. Don’t ignore the question and write about sanctions since that’s what suits you. A poor mark beckons in this circumstance I’m afraid. By all means bring in related sanctions issues if you think it’s relevant/adds value/you have time but don’t lose sight of the question.

Equally, even if you know all there is to know about the subject matter raised, you still need to answer the question. Don’t just write 15 pages about reporting suspicious activity, gleefully ignoring what has actually been asked because you are so happy it came up in the exam.

Finally remember to also pay attention to the format and content of the question. If a specific type of response has been asked for – such as a board report example – write it in this format as it is a chance to earn more marks.

4. Just repeating the course manual

Most ICA exams are open-book so you can take your course materials and books in with you.

But the examiner wants you to show what you know (and understand). Have the manual on hand as a point of reference if it helps, however repeating the contents - especially word for word - is not demonstrating knowledge or understanding.

The examiners are looking for your interpretation of the subject matter and how you can apply the theory you have learnt. If you don’t demonstrate this and merely copy text from the manual, it will be difficult for you to achieve the required marks.

5. Not making the most of the time you have

Use your allocated reading time at the beginning of the exam. Make sure you’ve read the instructions and know which questions you want to answer.

Allocate your writing time in line with the number of questions you need to answer and then break it down further to mark allocation. Don’t spend 20 minutes on a 5 marks sub-question then leave yourself only 5 minutes to answer a sub-question worth 15 marks.

If you finish a bit early then review your answers. You may be able to tidy something up/add in something else relevant.

Which brings me back to where we started – it’s about scoring those all-important marks.

So keep a cool head, avoid the pitfalls and there are distinctions out there to be had.


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